How will keeping Harry Reid in his position as Senate Majority Leader protect young black males from the tragic fate of Michael Brown in Missouri?
That’s the obvious and embarrassing question that ought to be raised in response to the shameless Democratic bid to boost African-American turnout by exploiting “the spirit of Ferguson.” A revealing New York Times report by Jonathan Martin at the end of August appeared under the heading, “At Risk in Senate, Democrats Seek to Rally Blacks” and laid out the essential elements of this dubious strategy.
“In black churches and on black talk radio,” Martin explained, “African-American civic leaders have begun invoking the death of Michael Brown, along with conservative calls to impeach Mr. Obama, as they urge black voters to channel their anger by voting Democratic in the midterm elections, in which minority turnout is typically lower.” Desperate Democrats also plan to recruit NBA stars to evoke memories of the incident while helping to register more black voters in key swing states. The planning and energy behind the drive comes from the Congressional Black Caucus, teaming with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
The ubiquitous Al Sharpton told his syndicated radio audience that if there’s a low African American turnout “people feel like they would be betraying the spirit of what happened in Ferguson….” Kasim Reed, Mayor of Atlanta, declared that voting en masse (presumably for Democrats, of course) represents the most fitting of all possible honors to the fallen and much-mourned Michael Brown, to the similarly lamented Trayvon Martin, and all other victims of alleged police brutality or racism. “The most important tribute you can make to individuals who you believe were treated unfairly is to exercise your franchise,” he insisted.
Left unanswered in all such exhortations is the question of how, exactly, preserving the threatened Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate would bring about changes in local policing or contribute in any way to an overall improvement in the nation’s racial climate. Barack Obama has held the nation’s highest office for nearly six years and throughout his term, Democrats have enjoyed uninterrupted control of the Senate. Whites and blacks may not agree on much when assessing the nation’s ongoing struggle for justice and equality, but all ethnic groups share a sense that race relations have deteriorated during the Obama presidency. A startling survey from Pew Research Center in late August showed a dramatic slippage since 2009 in the percentage of Americans who say that blacks and whites get along “very well” or “pretty well” – from 76% to 69%, a decline of seven points. Surprisingly, the judgment of African-Americans has proven especially harsh when it comes to the Obama record on uniting the nation: black respondents with positive attitudes toward black-white relations declined twelve points, from 76% to 64%. This wasn’t just the inevitable disillusionment following the exhilaration and inspiration of Obama’s election and inauguration. Even in 2007, during the troubled final years of the George W. Bush administration, more African-Americans thought that blacks and whites got along well (69%) than the percentage who share that optimism after six years of Barack Obama’s disappointing presidency (64%).
If black voters share the general sense that race relations have only deteriorated after six years of Barack Obama running the White House and Harry Reid simultaneously running the Senate, why would they buy the argument that maintaining both gentlemen in the same positions of authority would bring different results in 2015? That question looms as especially appropriate when it comes to issues of local law enforcement, where both the Senate and the White House have limited control over the most important decisions.
Attorney General Eric Holder may attempt to rally the Democratic base by announcing, with much fanfare, an exhaustive investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. But even if the Department of Justice assigns two FBI agents, and two special prosecutors, to probe the record of each one of the 55 white officers on that tiny suburban force, it’s hard to see how such deployment of resources would change realities on the street in other towns in Missouri, let alone other regions of the country.
Civil Rights hero and Georgia Representative John Lewis told the New York Times that “Ferguson has made it crystal clear to the African-American community and others that we’ve got to go to the polls.” That statement may make some sense when it comes to increasing black representation on the Ferguson City Council, but since those office-holders serve three year terms, that’s a battle that won’t appear on this year’s ballot. Under the circumstances, it’s difficult to see any connection whatever between all the passion and posturing in Ferguson and the faltering re-election drives of endangered, Southern white Democrats like Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina. An effort to protect the Senate status quo by keeping alive the unfocused rage surrounding Michael Brown’s death therefore represents an especially vile species of electoral manipulation. This ambulance chasing (or hearse chasing) form of political fraud puts the future of a handful of embattled hacks above the well-being of the black community and the unity of the nation at large.
This column originally appeared at TruthRevolt.org on August 14, 2014.